Last summer I got a call from Bob Orchard, a well-to-do St. Louisan (former owner of Orchard Paper Co.) and longtime civic booster. (For more on the latter, look here.) Orchard, who's in his 80s, loves the airport shoeshine shop located in the lower level near the baggage claim -- so much that for several years he has made monthly pilgrimages there. "I don't know what it is about their polish, but it's the best in the world," Orchard says.
But ever since the garage renovations started back in 2004, Orchard complains, "Crippies can't park!"
Allow him to elaborate: "If you're disabled and you hunt around for a place to park, you have to go to the very ends of the parking garage. If you're not in such good shape, like my legs, it takes you fifteen minutes to get to the entranceway to the airport. You're really huffing and puffing by the time you make it in there."
Orchard tried several times to strike up a conversation with the airport's transportation director Ted Laboube and with Dolliole himself, but no dice. So I finally took a ride out to the garage with Orchard a week or so ago -- his first trip in about six weeks, owing to discouragement.
"Well, I'll be damned!" he blurted as we circulated the garage's three levels, noticing a host of apparently newly positioned parking spots (albeit, 95 percent full) for the disabled. "Maybe my bitching finally paid off!"
Kinda, sorta. Not all of the garage's 1,848 spaces have been available during the renovation, but the garage did maintain 34 handicapped spots, as required by law, says Rich Bradley, assistant airport director of planning and engineering. Orchard's problems probably stemmed from the fact that the locations of those 34 spots kept changing.
"Every time we move something, it confuses people," concedes Bradley, though he notes that the airport "tried to put them in the most convenient places for the folks using them."
The renovation project is over budget and behind schedule, owing to structural problems discovered along the way, Bradley says. But the ninth and final phase should be completed by the end of October, and it'll be another two decades before further rehabbing is needed, he says.
Bradley warns, though, that some of Orchard's "crippie spots" will continue to move around until October.
Which leaves Bob Orchard unsatisfied. "I don't think they did enough," he says. He wants more spots and more signage.